Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Napa Valley's Go Fish a celebration of wine and local bounty of land and sea


641 Main Street

St. Helena, CA 94574

(707) 963-0700

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

Napa Valley, Ca.--With a farm and field to table upbringing in her native Minnesota and a culinary genesis in one of the celebrated temples of Chicago’s Gold Coast and Golden Era dining scene, the famed Pump Room at the Ambassador East Hotel, chef Cindy Pawlcyn has risen to become the brightest and most enduring star in Napa Valley’s culinary firmament.

Her star began its ascent when she moved to California, after receiving formal training at Paris’s legendary La Varenne and her stint in Chicago, to take a job at McArthur Park in San Francisco, one of the first restaurants in that culinary Mecca to celebrate local cuisine. After she became opening chef at Meadowood in St. Helena, she joined acclaimed chef Bruce LeFavour at Rose et LaFavour.

The meteor shower of acclaim really began for Cindy Pawlcyn when she opened Mustards Grill in Yountville, in 1983, just steps from some of the most famous wineries in the Napa Valley. Named for the wild mustard flowers that grow in the wine country every year, Mustards came to reflect Pawlcyn’s love for the region and its culinary resources. It became a celebration of all things Napa Valley and, in turn, all things Cindy Pawlcyn.

Go Fish is Napa Valley’s first sushi restaurant. It is also one of the Bay Area’s finest seafood restaurants, which takes the concept to new and inspired heights. Whimsically named for the kid’s card game, Go Fish breaks high concept cooking down to its approachable elements. A kaleidoscope of fresh fish selections are presented in “Fish Your Way,” with a mix and match selection of cooking methods and sauces to “Fish Our Way”, in which the kitchen determines what goes where and how. Pacific Snapper gets an Asian twist with bok choy, sunchokes and carrot ginger broth. Dover Sole arrives on a puree of fennel with caper brown butter, a nifty twist on the bistro classic. On any given day, fish choices range from sturgeon, striped bass, big eye tuna and Hawaiian ono, to wild salmon and Alaskan halibut. In short, there isn’t any delicacy that swims in the sea that doesn’t find its way into the kitchens of Go Fish.

Besides celebrating the bounty of the sea, Go Fish also is a showplace for locally sourced produce. Brussels sprouts with Red Onion, Grilled Asparagus with Chile Flakes & Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Sean’s irresistible French Fries with Chipotle Aioli are exquisite enough to turn the most avid carnivore into a vegetarian!

The menu at Go Fish attests to Pawlcyn’s passion for locally grown ingredients. While its Pawlyn’s vision that guides Go Fish, it’s the team of Michael Foster, Executive Chef, Jennifer Ingellis, Manager, Sean Knight, Managing Partner and Ken Tominaga, Partner and Sushi Master that makes the entire operation literally sing on a day-to-day basis.

The bright, airy interior of the restaurant is sophisticated, but not austere. The floor to ceiling windows let in plenty of light during the day. The décor incorporates an imaginative nautical design by Bay Area architect Howard Backen, with alternating chalkboards and a giant glass and wood screen that incorporates countless species of fish. Expansive wood-framed windows look out on nearby orchards and vineyards and the main drag, Highway 29. A patio with an outdoor bar portends the languid summer nights that lie ahead.

The long, curved sushi bar at the front of the restaurant holds a brilliant display of fresh seafood offerings of the day. The well-trained chefs, headed by Sushi Master Tominaga, give a daily master-class in sushi preparation for the patrons who are fortunate enough to get an early evening seat at the sushi bar before diving into a seafood dinner that defines the words “fresh” and “innovative.” The restaurant flies in many of its sushi items fresh daily from Japan and Hawaii.

A true connoisseur will be in sushi heaven within minutes. If you’re lucky, as I was on a visit during Premiere Napa Weekend, you can be treated to such rare delicacies as Shirobei shrimp from Japan, which are only available at certain times of year, or ka-kani, Chinese mitten crab. Raw scallop, or Hotate, is another such delicacy. As I watched the sushi chef break down the fresh lobster, and begin preparing the other fish for use that evening, I became so entranced and absorbed in the process, that I nearly forgot my original purpose for coming to Go Fish, the experience of having a great seafood dinner. I’ll have to plan an evening at the sushi bar at Go Fish for my next visit to Napa Valley.

An assortment of Sashimi and Sushi, featuring such delicacies as fresh Sea Urchin (Uni), Hotategai (Sea Scallop) and Kampachi (Amber Jack) was accompanied by a really crisp Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc from St. Supery, Virtu’ 2008 ($18), a winery located practically across the road from the restaurant. The subtle aromas of pear and grapefruit and tastes of peach and nectarine with a slight, smoky toast, got the meal off to a succulent start. That was only eclipsed by the mélange of fresh oysters that followed, which included Beau Soliel, Sweetwater and, a real delicacy, Hama Hama from Washington State. Schramsberg 2007 Blanc de Blanc ($29.99) is the ONLY thing to have with fresh oysters, especially if you’re in the Napa Valley. Don’t let anyone tell you different. It has just the right balance of salty minerality and bright lemon and lime fruit with a touch of green apple to play against the briny sweetness of the oysters. The Hama Hama, in particular, had a silkiness and caviar-like aftertaste when accompanied by a healthy swallow of the Schramsberg. I could have happily ended the meal with another helping of oysters, but greater adventures lie ahead!

The beauty of eating at a fresh seafood restaurant like Go Fish is the opportunity to taste the Fresh Catch of the day. Menu staples such as steamed Prince Edward Island Mussels in a heady Thai Coconut Curry broth, alongside a glass of Frank Family Vineyards Napa Valley Chardonnay 2007 ($32.50) is a surefire palate pleaser. It’s vivacious with luscious white peach, citrus blossoms and honeysuckle dripping on the tongue with a bit of pippin apple to give it a little bite. It’s just the right taste to cut through the subtle brininess of shellfish, like mussels. The plump, soft mussels were cooked to just the right texture. The lightly flavored curry didn’t detract at all from the slightly sweet, yet nutty taste. I ventured further into Far East fusion with another house specialty, Whole Grilled Thai Snapper. The texture was firm and flaky. In other words, perfect. The fish was as fresh and flavorful as any I’ve had from the Gulf in New Orleans, where Snapper is King! I’d order this dish again in a heartbeat. Black cod poached in Shitake brother and served on a toasted sticky rice cake is another spectacular dish you probably won’t find anywhere else, anytime soon. For a twist on Surf ‘N Turf, try seared scallops with foie gras. You’ll never go back to steak and lobster again.

Go Fish boasts a bevy of mouthwatering house made desserts. I was fully satiated from the meal, but was tempted to try a killer roasted banana and rum ice cream ‘sandwich,’ sort of a Napa Valley twist on the Bananas Foster I’d enjoyed at Galatoire’s in the French Quarter during the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience last spring. I settled into another glass of the Schramsberg before sauntering out of the door into a day bathed in golden sunlight, as only the Napa Valley can offer. On the way back to my Bed & Breakfast room at the Wine Country Inn, I paused to take a photo of the wild mustard flowers growing in the vineyards at the base of Mount St. Helena. How apropos!

Go Fish is a unique dining experience that celebrates one of Napa Valley’s greatest culinary talents and the tremendous bounty of local ingredients unique to this blessed region. Cindy Pawlcyn operates a couple of other Napa Valley culinary staples, Cindy’s Backstreet in St. Helena and the eponymous Mustards, in nearby Yountville, which was mentioned here earlier. One could easily plan a weekend culinary adventure by simply visiting her restaurants in between a tour of the valley’s terrific wineries. You could even stop at her other eatery, Fog City Diner, located in a building that looks like an Airstream trailer on the San Francisco waterfront on the way up. Visit and for details.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Movie Review: Miami International Film Festival-Andy Garcia premieres a slice of young Miami life in Magic City Memoirs

1. Film director Aaron Salgado with Dwight Casimere at the premiere screening

2, 3. & 4. Andy Garcia, with the cast of Magic City Memoirs at a news conference in South Beach at The Betsy Hotel

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

MIAMI BEACH---Veteran Oscar nominated actor and Miami native Andy Garcia served as executive producer to the film Magic City Memoirs, which received its World Premiere at the Miami International Film Festival.

Aaron Salgado, who was born and raised in Miami, wrote and directed this very personal drama about the intertwining lives of three lifelong friends who battle each other, their families, and the heady, reckless abandon of their life of privilege in America’s most hedonistic of cities.

Cinematographer Gustavo Penna uses his camera like a surgeon's micro-camera, taking us behind the scenes to Miami's secret places, rarely seen by outsiders. The locales become a secondary character that tells the story with the equivalent force of dialogue and plot structure.

The story takes place in Coral Gables, Florida, Miami’s answer to Beverly Hills. Angel Suarez Jr. (Michael Cardelle-Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight TV series-2010, in a riveting performance) is the son of Coral Gables mayor Angel Suarez Sr. (veteran actor Nestor Serrano(Victor Luna in the TV series 90210, Burn Notice TV series 2011, Secretariat-2010, The Day After Tonmorrow-2004, The Insider-1999, among many others).

Suarez Jr. has a strained relationship with his father, due to divorce, which accounts in part for his rebellious behavior. Although he has excellent grades and a promising future following in his father’s venerable footsteps, his reckless behavior threatens to derail his future. He is constantly engaging in antics involving petty crimes, drinking and drugs with good friends Mickey Acosta (J. R. Villarreal-best known for being in the film Akeelah and the Bee-2006), who is a promising baseball prodigee, on the brink of being scouted by the majors, and Stok (Andres Dominguez, a relative unknown, previously in the short Jamaica Motel, who gives a bravura performance, reminiscent of a young Marlon Brando). Stok is the most conflicted of the characters and therefore, the most interesting. His father is a convicted drug lord, who tries to raise his errant son by phone from his prison cell. We later learn that Stok’s father was framed by Suarez Sr. in a scheme to cover up the mayor’s own shady activities. The resentment Stok harbors toward the Suarez’s, both Sr. and Jr. provides some underlying tension between the two friends that propels the plot to its tragic denouement.

The three friends, on the surface, have it all. They all attend private high school, drive fast cars and boats , drink, party, and have their pick of all the pretty girls. There’s even an allusion that one of them may have even caught the eye of a pretty, young substitute teacher. Although that may be more the product of youthful fantasy than reality. In any event , their risky behavior threatens to derail their future plans, just weeks from graduation.

The bottom line is, their lives are at the knifepoint. They can either sink in the quicksand of instant gratification, or grow up, take responsibility for their lives and move on.

In a sage moment, Angel Jr. counsels Acosta to “get the f---k out of this town, before it swallows you up!”

Magic City Memories is director Salgado’s personal diary put on film. The title is derived from the crudely drawn memoir of Stok, whose terse poems and rap lyrics are contained in a worn black and white high school composition notebook. His words provide the central pulse for the movie.

In Magic City, the life of privilege and easy access is both a blessing and a curse. It is the source of the character’s greatest pleasure and their most profound pain.

Director Salgado also shows something rarely seen in U.S. films. He shows the Hispanic American community in a very realistic life. It is a depiction that only one who has lived his entire life in it can achieve.

He shows his community in its entirety, warts and all. Anyone who thinks there's a monolithic Latino community in America needs to see this movie There are just as many race and class divisions among Hispanics as there are in the rest of society. Class difference and social standing, figure prominently in the construct of the plot of Magic City.

At one point in the film, Mikey dresses down Angel Jr. for his treatment Mari (Natalie Martinez-Detroit 1-8-7 TV series), a girl from the 'wrong side of the tracks' by Coral Gables standards.

“As beautiful as she is. As right for you as she is for you," Mikey pleads,"you won't make her your own, because you think you're better than she is."

In a pivotal scene, Stok is found remorseful and suicidal, seated in the crumbling ruins Miami's abandoned Bayside Stadium. It is a particularly telling and poignant moment.

Salgado elaborated on the significance of the scene and its locale in a post-screening interview. "The Bayside Stadium is significant to us and important to the film. Its the place here we hung out as kids and did our grafitti. Its where we later launched our boats and went out and partied on the Bay. its a big part of our lives. Its really not that surprising that that's where we find Stok, because that's his sanctuarry. We actually had a hard time getting approval permits from the city to film there. The city of Miami is very particular about how their landmarks are portrayed. But we pursued it because we felt it was important to the central theme and look of the film. "

As a director, Salgado succeeded in creating a film that rings with authenticity. "We wanted to create something that was organic and authentic and that really showed things from a local perspective and from the point of view of someone who actually lived and grew up in Miami. We see so many things like Miami Vice that show the city in a very unrealistic and superficial light. We felt it was important to be true to our experience of living and growing up in Miami."

Throughout the film, you feel as if the people and the events are real. "The script came out of my personal experience. All of the events that occur in the fllm actually happened. We took different parts of the story from different peoples lives and combined them in the different characters, but all of the events are real. The events actually happened to someone I know.”

The credits include a tribute to friends of the director, who have passed on. “These are the names of people I know who were lost to suicide, or car accidents, war, or some other tragedy. I wanted to honor them and be true to their memory in some way in this film.”

Magic City Memoirs has the ring of truth throughout its two-hour running time. The dialogue literally sings. The film gives you the feeling that you are eavesdropping on some very personal and private conversations. Somehow you feel that youjust dropped into a parking lot outside a nightclub in Coconut Grove and overheard a group of guys drinking, partying and then suddenly erupting in a fighting over a girl. Or that you somehow snuck into the back door of one of those ornate Mediterranean style homes you drive by in Coral Gables and eavesdropped on a private encounter between two young lovers.

No release date has been announced for Magic City Memoirs and no deal has been proffered for cable release. Keep and eye out for that information. The film is well worth viewing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Miami International Film Festival: Day Seven Young Goethe In Love-A Lyrical Portrait of Love

1. Director Philipp Stolzl and star Alexander Fehling at a post-screening party at the W, South Beach, Florida

2. The real "young Goethe"

3. Fehling and Stolzl respond to audience questions after the Gusman Center East Coast Premiere

4. Alexander Fehling as Young Goethe


Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

MIAMI-‘The book that launched a thousand suicides’, is perhaps how Germany’s most celebrated author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is remembered in the annals of history. His first book, The Sorrows of Young Werther, made him an international celebrity in a time when such fame was rare. German Director Philipp Stolzl (the mountain film North Face) delivers a sensitively drawn portrait that details the formative, young adult years of this supreme genius of modern German literature in the film Young Goethe In Love, which received its East Coast Premiere at the Miami International Film Festival. Starring Alexander Fehling (Inglorious Basterds) as the burgeoning young poet, the film is a glorious representation of the fine art of cinema.

Each frame of Young Goethe In Love is like a carefully drawn portrait. The exteriors look like the Impressionistic paintings of Renoir. The interiors, set in the German countryside of the mid-18th Century, resemble Rembrandt’s burnished earth tone and pewter images. “We took hundreds of old paintings and put them on the wall in order to establish the ‘look’ of the film,” director Stolzl told me in a later interview. “We wanted to make sure that the film had an authentic feel.” By every standard, he achieved his goal and then some.

Alexander Fehling sets just the right tone for his portrayal of the young Goethe, who early on in the film is conflicted between his duties to his family, particularly his autocratic father, who wants Johann to follow in his footsteps and become a successful lawyer, and his love of poetry. Instead of yearning to write legal briefs, the words that burn in his soul speak, not of legalese, but of the lofty aspirations of the human spirit and the search for eternal love. He is smitten with a beautiful young noblewoman, Lotte (Miriam Stein-180 degrees), but quickly finds himself at odds, and literally dueling, with his superior at the law firm where he is an apprentice. His rival, Albert Kestner (the ubiquitous German character actor Moritz Bleibtreu-The Baader Meinhof Complex) also has eyes for her, and has the cash to provide a handsome dowry that will rescue her family from the brink of bankruptcy.

“We admittedly took some liberties with the story,” actor Fehling said of his portrayal. “But everything I put into my role is true to his character. We had to make some adjustments on his appearance, however. From the portraits we saw, Goethe was a very good-looking guy, but he had dark hair. They tried several dark wigs on me, but they just didn’t work. They weren’t ’me.

“There’s also a love scene early in the film, that just didn’t happen in reality,” director Stolzl chimed in. “There were the moral conventions of the time, that just wouldn’t have allowed it. Plus there was the very real fear of disease. Syphilis was rampant at that time, much as HIV/AIDS in our time. Goethe probably didn’t have sex until he was 35 or so!”

The film depicts Goethe in prison for his indiscretions. “That representation is more figurative than real,”Stolzl continued. It represents the period in his life when he struggled with his own ideas and principles in order to find a new voice that would carry him through his lifetime and his career as a writer.”

Besides his initial ‘hit,’ Young Werther, Goethe would go on to write was is considered to be the greatest long poem of European literature, Faust. Goethe was one of the key figures of German literature, but he was a philosopher as well, and was one of the guiding lights of the movement of Weimar Classicism, which spanned the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Its ideals of Enlightenment and Sentimentality precursored the Romantic era and spawned the ideals that sparked both the French and American revolutions.

One of the most telling lines in the film occurs when Goethe’ inamorata Lotte, appears before a publisher, seeking to have Goethe’s manuscripts put into print. When the publisher asks of the writings of Goethe are based on fact, she says, “It is more than truth. It is poetry.”

Young Goethe In Love is currently showing at Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center, and is set for wider release later this spring. Check your local listings for theatres, dates and times.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Miami International Film Festval: Day Six

1. Amador film star Magaly Solier with Director Fernando Leon de Aranoa at the Paella Parade
2. Chef Luis Quant of Por Fin Restaurant & Lounge, Coral Gables, Florida, and his award-winning Fresh Quail Paella
3. Chef Fonseca's Fresh Seafood Paella from El Carajo International Tapas & Wines, Miami
4. Staging area for Garcia's Seafood Grille & Fish Market Seafood Paella
5. El Coto de Rioja wine display at Miami Beach Botanical Gardens
6. Partygoers enjoy a glass of El Coto de Rioja Tempranillo wine
7. Chef Steve Garcia at the Paella Pan
8. Flowers were the central theme of the film, Amador, and the centerpiece of the Paella Parade at Miami Beach Botanical Gardens
9. Chef Garcia's Seafood Paella
10. Dwight The Wine Doctor tries his hand at Seafood Paella with Chef Steve Garcia

Amador: North American Premiere examines estrangement and the afterlife with a touch of Saffron and Rioja

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA—Amador, the Spanish-language film (with English subtitles) from Spain, in its North American Premiere, was the centerpiece of a night dedicated to the food, wine and moral and ethical sensibilities of Spanish culture. Amador is in World Competition at the festival.

The film, a sixth outing for the award-winning Madrid-based screenwriter and director, Fernando Leon de Aranoa, who last appeared at the Miami Film Festival seven years ago with his film Princesses (Princesas). Amador examines the issues of loneliness, prejudices regarding immigration, and emotional attachment to departed loved ones, in this case, bordering on necrophilia. Add to the mix the overlay of a thematic story line that follows the arc of the life and death of flowers and their relation to human life and death and intimations of the after-life and you have the threads that director Leon weaves into the rich tapestry of this film.

The cinematographer immediately introduces us to the bleak landscape of suburban Madrid and the sub-culture of its immigrant flower merchants. He provides the perfect tableau for the ensuing moral drama to unfold. The pacing and the dialogue by Leon, who also co-wrote the script, are masterful, but it is the luminous actress Magaly Solier, whom I recognized from the Academy Award-nominated Peruvian film, “The Milk of Sorrow (La feta asustrada), who really knocks this film out of the cinematic park. If there were ever an Oscar for the pure art of acting, Solier would be the winner. She conveys more with a mere look; the quiver of a cheek, the arch of an eyebrow, a Mona Lisa-like smile, that conveys more meaning than all the words of Shakespeare.

As the impoverished immigrant, Marcela, she struggles to find some emotional connection to the world around her. There seems to be no relief from her overriding sense of loneliness and emotional abandonment.

In the film, she is seen living with her lout of a boyfriend, Ernesto, who only sees her as a sex object and a foil for his illegal business of selling stolen flowers in the streets of Madrid. He could get a normal job, but he refuses to. He’d much rather hang out with his cadre of street scum and chase his wild, and unproductive dreams.

Early in the film, Marcela learns that she is pregnant, but is afraid to tell him, because she is sure he will leave if he finds out. In order to bring some much-needed cash into the household and help her boyfriend pursue his misguided dream of expanding his flower business, she takes a job as caretaker to a dying man. The low-paying job is typical of those to which immigrant workers are relagated. She is payed a barely liveable wage under the table by the vainglorious Teresa, who could care less about her dying father, Amador.

Marcela grows attached to the taciturn old man and their platonic relationship deepens as they both express their loneliness. Each in their own way makes a vain attempt at finding meaning in a world that always seems to exist just beyond their grasp. Amador spends hours putting together the pieces of a puzzle as a distraction from his bedridden tedium. The puzzle becomes a metaphor for Marcela’s disjointed life and shattered relationship. (“In life, you are alone,” she says. “So you try to find someone to be with. But it stays the same. In the end, you are still alone!”)

The old man surmises that she is pregnant and asks to touch her swollen belly. He offers a half-hearted prayer. Speaking aloud to the unborn infant, he assures her child that there will be a place for him in this world. “You can take mine. I will save a place for you,” he declares. It is a touching moment.

Marcela demands that Teresa pay her in advance so she can put a down payment on the refrigerator her boyfriend wants to store flowers for his business. He calls the business “Marcela’s Flowers” and places multi-colored refrigerator magnet letters on the door that read “Floris Marcella.” Instead of delighting her, the garish display drives a knife through Marcela’s heart and makes her feel even more alone and unappreciated.

Just as things appear to be going along swimmingly, the old man dies. Marcela is in a quandary. Should she tell Teresa her father is dead and lose all of the money she so desperately needs? More importantly, should she give up the one relationship and emotional sanctuary, that has given meaning to her desolate life.

In the course of her dilemma, she seeks counsel from two disparate sources; her priest, who inadvertently convinces her to continue the deception, in the film’s most wildly hilarious scene, and from an aging hooker, who pays weekly conjugal visits to the old man.

Amador is a touching film that applies gentle humor to some touchy and uncomfortable subjects. It offers a new perspective on sudden death and belief in the afterlife and affirms the enduring power of love.

“I wanted someone who was really an outsider,” director Leon said in his post-screening comments, in which he appeared with the actress Solier at his side. “The character Marcela is from Ecuador or Chile, we never make it quite specific. But the important point is that she is estranged and feels somewhat detached from her immediate environment. We see it even more with her relationship with her boyfriend. Then, the point is really driven home when Amador dies. Her relationship with Amador turns out to be the only real anchor in her life.”

Later, the director and star segued with the entire audience to the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens for the Paella Parade, presented by El Coto de Rioja, the premium Spanish wine maker.

Presenting their outstanding wines, including El Coto Rosado, a refreshing Salmon-colored blush wine made from the perfect combination of 50% Granacha and 50% Tempranillo, the native premium grapes of Spain, El Coto Crianza, a Reserve wine made with 100% Tempranillo grapes that is aged 14 months in new American oak casks, and El Coto Blanco, a refreshing white wine made from 100% Viura grapes, another native varietal from Spain, which is fermented in stainless steel tanks to preserve its freshness and crispness.

The main event of the after-party was a parade of the most delicious Paellas imaginable, from the best chefs and restaurants Miami has to offer. Paella is a traditional rice casserole, prepared in a huge round, shallow pan with saffron rice, herbs and a hearty mixture of seafood, poultry and Spanish cured meats. The flavorings and varieties are left to the whim of the chef and each Paella experience is different. There was a contest to choose the most imaginative and delicious Paella. My personal favorites were the Quail Paella from Por Fin Restaurant & Lounge, which featured copious bits of fresh quail and was topped with raw quail eggs and fresh cilantro and the savory Seafood Paella created by Chef Steve Garcia of Garcia’s of Miami.

Over a dish of marvelous seafood Paella from El Carajo International Tapas & Wines, director Leon and actress Solier took time to share their thoughts on the film. “What I like about Magaly,” Leon said, referring to his lead actress, “is her ability to express so many emotions. Her face is like a diamond that catches the light in so many different ways. She is a powerful actress, yet she is still very subtle in that way.”

The evening was a combination of art from the cask, and from the culinary and cinematic arts. It made for the perfect blend for Dwight The Wine Doctor!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Welcome to the Wines of Ribera 2011. Drink Ribera! Drink Spain!

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere

MIAMI—The Contemporary Art setting of Rubell Family Collection, an eclectic converted warehouse that is a design studio and showcase for monument-sized sculptural art in Miami’s Design District, was the setting for the U.S. Premiere tasting of the Wines of Ribera in Spain. Drink Ribera. Drink Spain, the Grand Tasting 2011 is the landmark event of the Spanish wine industry in America.

Ribera del Duero provides a benchmark for quality in the Spanish wine category. The wines represent the pinnacle of Spanish winemaking and the ultimate expression of Spain’s most noble grape: Tempranillo. Located in Spain’s storied northern plateau an hour and a half north of Madrid, the Ribera, or “River Bank” in Spanish, encompasses four provinces, Castilla y Leon, Burgos, Segovia, Soria and Valladolid. The Ribera region flows along both sides of the Duero River Valley. The wines, rich and complex, benefit from the great diversity of soils deposited by the river.

Officially founded as a designation in 1982, the region and the families that own the wineries actually have a history that dates to antiquity. Winemaking in the Ribera goes back over 2,000 years to the Roman era as evidenced by a recent find, a huge mosaic of Bacchus, the God of Wine, unearthed at Banos de Valdearados. Benedictine monks settled in the area from Burgundy in the 12th century and revived the art of winemaking in the region. At the height of the Spanish Empire in the 17th & 18th centuries, Ribera wines were the most highly prized of Spanish exports. Today, new technology is melded with a respect for tradition to create wines that have garnered international acclaim.

At the Miami tasting, the wines showed beautifully. Each had unique character. It’s amazing how the same grape variety grown in different soil conditions and with the distinct artistry of the winemaker, many of whom are women, can produce profoundly different tasting wines. While only a handful of the wines are available currently, the number of ‘heavyweight’ distributors, both locally and nationally, represented at the tasting, ensures that the wines will be on shelves in your favorite wine store by the start of Spring. Another strong indicator that speaks well for the reception of Wines of the Ribera is the ratio of price to quality. The most expensive wines in the room will retail for $29. A comparable French or California wine would easily cost $100. Most of the wines are in the $12-$20 price category, a very comfortable price point in these fuel cost-ravaged times.

The catering staff at the Rubell Collection provided a variety of Spanish influenced ‘Tapas’ including the marvelous Serrano Ham, spicy cured cold meats, such as Chorizo, Lorno and Salchichon, Machego Cheese, and a delicious Spanish Frittata, a traditional Spanish omelet made with herbs (parsley & thyme), minced garlic, thinly sliced onions, mild grated cheese and slices of cooked potatoes. Accompanied by a light, slightly spicy wine, such as Bodegas y Venedos Ortega Fournier 2008 Urban Ribera ($12.50), a wine that is readily available at most wine shops in the U.S., this is a lunch or early dinner dish that is sure to satisfy. It’s long on flavor and short on calories and is perfect for spring!

Back in my sailing days, when I lived in Sausalito in the San Francisco Bay Area, I hung out with a number of Spanish transplants that loved to prepare lunch for an outing on the open Bay. One of their favorite potluck dishes was a delicious Frittata. I managed to get the recipe from my old friend, Joaquin. Here’s his recipe for Spanish Frittata (traditional Spanish omelet) as I remember it.

Ingredients and things you’ll need:

¼ cup olive oil (NOT virgin olive oil)

1 medium onion

4 eggs

1 medium potato

1 tsp chopped garlic (1 clove)

¼ cup fresh parsley (do not used dried, it won’t taste right)

1 tsp minced fresh thyme (again, FRESH is essential to the taste)

½ small red bell pepper

Salt and pepper to taste (I prefer grated mixed peppercorns or white pepper)

½ cup grated firm white cheese (Machego, a Spanish white cheddar-type cheese made from Sheep’s milk, available at most fine food stores or gourmet cheese sections at your local supermarket. You can use Asiago or Parmesan in a pinch, but, again, the authenticity and the taste won’t be the same).

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Slice onion and bell pepper into thin strips. Set aside.
  2. Mince garlic, parsley and thyme and grate the cheese, if it isn’t already.
  3. Peel the potatoes and cut them in half lengthwise, then slice them into thin half-moons that are the thickness of a nickel.
  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees
  5. Heat and ovenproof, nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 1 tbsp olive oil
  6. Sauté the garlic, onion and red pepper five minutes or until tender, but not browned
  7. Add thyme and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring for a few seconds and set all aside in a bowl.
  8. Add remaining oil and heat pan until very hot.
  9. Add the potatoe slices in batches and cook evenly on both sides until cooked through. This is the most critical part of the recipe. You can’t crowd the potatoes in the pan and you have to be careful to turn them at just the right moment. You don’t want them overcooked or too brown. In fact, they shouldn’t be brown at all!
  10. Drain the potatoes on paper towels.
  11. Remove excess oil from the pan and arrange the cooked potatoes in a fan pattern to cover the bottom of the skillet.
  12. Carefully arrange the minced garlic and the sliced onions, bell peppers and herbs over the potatoes.
  13. Place skillet on stovetop over low heat
  14. Place broken eggs in a bowl and beat well, seasoning with salt and pepper
  15. Carefully pour the eggs evenly over the potatoes
  16. Cook the mixture on the stovetop for about a minute, sprinkle the cheese on top and transfer the skillet to the oven for the final stage of cooking.
  17. Let the skillet with the egg mixture cook, undisturbed in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the eggs set. Don’t bounce around in front of the oven, it needs to rise and set a bit, like a cake or quiche.
  18. Carefully remove the skillet from the oven and allow it to cool a bit before you attempt to cut it. Loosen the edges of the frittata with a spatula, to make sure it doesn’t stick, then carefully place a large serving plate4 over the skillet and carefully turn the skillet and plate over so the potato and egg omelet is face up.
  19. Slice careful into wedges, garnish with fresh parsley and sprinkle on a bit more cheese or add a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream flavored with a few pepper flakes or red pepper puree. Serve with a slightly chilled (54 degrees, cellar temperature) Ribera, such as 2008 Urban Ribera and enjoy. Arriba!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Miami International Film Fest: a wild ride through the Civil Rights quagmire, shampooing a Shetland and talking to a chimp

1. Stranded Freedom Riders at the Greyhound bus station in Montgomery, Alabama
2. A chimp named "Chimsky"
3. Film maker James Marsh, Dwight Casimere and retired researcher Renee Falitz at the South Beach screening of "Project Nim"
4. Shameless promotional poster for "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"
5. Director Morgan Spurlock with Dwight Casimere at the Regal screening

SOUTH BEACH, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA—A circuitous bus ride through the Deep South that navigates the choppy waters of the Cold War, international politics and the infighting of the Kennedy/Camelot White House; the blatant sellout to produce the Greatest Movie Ever; and a morally questionable effort to Talk With The Animals, were the overriding subjects as the Miami International Film Festival careened into its full and final week of film presentations.

Freedom Riders is a disconcerting documentary drama that follows the unfolding of the events that surrounded the Freedom Rides to eliminate segregation by race in public transportation and accommodations in the nascent days of the Civil Rights Movement. The first Freedom Rides took place on May 4, 1961, when seven blacks and six whites left Washington, D.C. on a Trailways and a Greyhound bus to test the Supreme Court’s ruling that declared segregation in interstate bus and rail stations in the Deep South unconstitutional. The film has particular resonance for me, as my mother was a Freedom Rider in the second wave of the movement and I became a close friend and colleague of one of the originators of the movement, Diane Nash, who worked with me as a journalist in Chicago.

Veteran filmmakers Stanley Nelson’s troubling, yet inspirational documentary is the first feature-length film about this seminal moment in Civil Rights history. It goes far beyond the textbook representations to reveal the complex inner ramifications of this astonishing chapter in American history. It is as much a testament to the power of youthful idealism as it is to the continuing power of the media and the triumph of the human spirit against all odds.

There are moments that even foretell landmark events to come, particularly when then Attorney General Robert Kennedy comments in a Voice of America radio broadcast at the successful conclusion of the Freedom Rides, predicting, “there will one day be, even, a Negro President.”

Nelson’s skill as a storyteller, allowing the narrative voice of the actual participants to tell the story, pulls back the veneer of didactic historical fact, to reveal the raw violence on the outside and visceral conflict within the very core of the Civil Rights Movement. No event, or key player in this real-life drama is spared from the unflinching gaze of his camera. Even the light shone on the reputation of the Christ-like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who the young Freedom Rider students half-mockingly referred to as “Da Lawd,” was revealed to be, paradoxically, a respected and beloved leader, but one who had “feet of clay,” in the words of one of the narrators, former Georgia legislator and NAACP President Julian Bond.

Freedom Riders is a sobering, yet analytic retrospective of the internal racial politics that still informs American governmental policy and social conventions, between white America and people of color.

Mocumentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) is at it again with the documentary farce The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. The Oscar-nominated director takes an unabashedly exploitative look at the garish world of product placement and corporate branding in the film industry.

This film is anything but a sensitive, probative look at the world of product huckstering in Hollywood. Spurlock makes the very act of seeking blatant product placement the very core of his film. “You know whose the greatest at product placement,” Spurlock posits, “NASCAR. The suit that the drivers wear is the epitome of product placement with the logos of the sponsors splashed all over it.” Spurlock gleefully adopts the practice, wearing a tight-fitting suit with the logos of “POM”, “Jet Blue” and “Hyatt” and those of the other dozen or so sponsors of the film, affixed to it.

The film is, at times, ridiculous. I’m sure you’ve run across the shampoo product ‘Mane & Tail’ at your local Walgreen’s. I’ve often wondered about the efficacy of the product. (“There’s even directions on the back for both animal and human use!” he declares, gleefully.)

What the hell, Spurlock decides to pursue them as a partial sponsor, even pitching to them an absurd commercial spot, in which the camera reveals him in a bath tub shampooing his young son with the product, then pulling back to reveal him shampooing himself and then pulling out to a wide shot to show him shampooing an actual miniature Shetland pony in that self-same bathtub. Mane & Tail buys it and their segment becomes the wildly funniest moment in the film!

“You will never look at product placement in a film in the same way after watching this movie,” Spurlock declared in post-screening Q & A at the Regal Theatre in South Beach. Indeed, even some respected directors like Quentin Tarantino, who was among those interviewed in the film, made the point that product placement is a fact of life in filmmaking and that even he had made at least one failed attempt to incorporate a commercial sponsor in one of his films. “The opening scene of ‘Pulp Fiction’ was intended to show the two lead characters having a meeting over breakfast at a Denny’s. Denny’s wanted absolutely nothing to do with my movie!”

Project Nim explores the complex, often morally troubling world of animal research through the eyes of Oscar-winning documentary director James Marsh (Man on Wire) and the leaders of a 1970s Columbia University experiment to teach sign language to a chimpanzee.

Psychologist Herbert Terrace, the leader of the project, names the chimp “Nim Chimpsky,” a play on words after the famous linguist Noam Chomsky, who makes a brief appearance in the film.

The film follows the kidnapping of the baby chimp Nim from his mother in captivity, through his nurturing by a Long Island family and eventual subjugation to a life-long research project that blurred the lines between teacher and student and animal and human. “Its wrong to take animals from the wild and try to raise them in captivity and try to impose our human will on them,” declared one of the participants, Renee Falitz, who was savagely bitten by Nim. “He should never have been taken from his mother. He should never have been raised among humans. If you look at all those words on the screen, that is not language. Nim never learned language. That is just vocabulary. There’s a profound difference between language and vocabulary.” To say that Falitz, who is now retired and living in South Florida, felt the experiment was a failure, is an understatement.

At times, Project Nim is joyous, sad, intriguing and heart wrenching. I must admit I shed tears several times, especially in the scenes where Nim was relegated to a solitary cage at a farm/refuge for abused animals near the end of his life. Were it not for the intervention of a most unlikely hero, a pot smoking Grateful Deadhead named Bob Ingersoll, who comes to his rescue. Nim instantly recognizes Ingersoll and resurrects a sign that he had invented years earlier with another researcher, the crossed hands, almost raised in prayer, that meant, “I want to play.” It is a transcendent moment and one that brought the tears of this reviewer gushing forth!

Is it wrong to hold animals in captivity and attempt to treat them as humans? Participant Falitz thinks so. “Why is it important for him to learn colors? He’s (Nim) never going to paint a house. Why does he need to learn language? He doesn’t need to recite lines in a school play. It’s wrong to try to treat animals as humans. Its wrong to force them to live anywhere but in the wild!” There’s no denying the power of the film. It shows that we have much to learn from those we consider “dumb animals.” What the researchers learned about themselves and what we loosely call ‘human nature’ is perhaps more revealing, in the end, than what they supposedly learned about Nim and his language capability.

The Miami International Film Festival continues tonight with director Fernando Perez’s Marti, The Eye Of The Canary (Marti, El Ojo Del Canario) a joint offering from Cuba and Spain that charts the formative years of a Cuban national hero, Jose Julian Marti Perez in a handsome historical epic set in 1860s Havana. For tickets and information, visit